MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Jamie Marks Is Dead’ Offers A Unique Supernatural Story

Jamie Mark Is Dead Movie Review

Film: Jamie Marks Is Dead
Starring: Cameron Monaghan, Noah Silver
Directed by: Carter Smith

Jamie Marks Is Dead finds new ground in the realm of adapted supernatural young adult fiction, but it’s not enough to create a thrilling viewing experience.

The title of Carter Smith’s latest film is as much a fact as it is a lie. Jamie Marks is indeed dead, but his spirit, or something akin to it, survives. His tiny frame, protected only by a torn pair of boy’s underwear, saunters through the town his living self once considered Hell both day and night. He doesn’t believe anyone can see him at first, but as these stories tend to go, we soon learn that is not the case.

Adam McCormick is a teenager with a worldview years beyond that of his peers. He’s the kind of kid that is not entirely popular, but also not hated on or bullied in any way. Adam chooses his own path, and after learning of Jamie Marks’ fate he cannot help thinking he should have done more to be a friend to a boy seemingly no one at school ever showed any kindness to. He’s also dealing with struggles at home, including a recently paralyzed mother and her inability to lay blame on the person who changed her life forever because of pre-existing relationships. It’s as if everyone Adam knows is stuck in their ways, and even when things go from bad to downright terrible they refuse to save themselves, or really anyone at all.

In the days after the discovery of Jamie’s body, Adam meets and begins to fall for a strange young girl named Gracie. It’s at her house that Adam first notices Jamie, or the ghost of Jamie, shivering in the cold of the night. Gracie can see him too, but she has no desire to find out what he wants. Adam, on the other hand, cannot look away. He approaches Jamie, and not long after the two form a friendship that defies pretty much everything we think we know about existence.

There are hints that Jamie Marks Is Dead will build to a major reveal about the cause of the title character’s fate, but it becomes clear roughly halfway through the film that is not the case. Jamie Marks may be dead, but the reason for his death is nowhere near as important as the reason his spirit is still present, at least in the context of the film. Because of this, the story struggles to maintain momentum after Adam and Jamie initially connect. Most their time is spent in hushed conversation, often on everything except Jamie’s passing, and even when the plot does decide to address the end of Jamie’s life it’s delivered so heavy-handed that you feel as if you have been tricked into a PSA. I won’t say what that PSA would be about, but if you can read between the lines of the descriptions above it should be rather easy to figure out. There is no mystery.

There are clear hints of homoeroticism throughout Jamie Marks Is Dead that often distract from the story at hand, but only because Carter Smith leaves too much up in the air. Adam feels bad for Jamie’s lack of clothing, and as a result the two are often quite close, even sharing a bed together. There’s also the fact that something about Adam’s voice allows Jamie to continue being visible to living people. It’s nothing explained at great length, but several times throughout the course of the film Adam and Jamie must be close enough to kiss in order for Adam to whisper words into Jamie’s mouth. Not in his ear, or close enough to be heard, but into his mouth. Nothing romantic ever arises between the two, but there are at least two scenes where the expression on Jamie’s face tells you he wishes more could develop. The film never touches on this subject in a direct manner however, and because of that it feels more like an after thought. It’s an interested idea left unexplored, resulting in messy character development.

The script would likely feel far more mediocre if not being delivered by a strong cast of indie notables. Cameron Monaghan, who shines on the Showtime series Shameless, makes Adam relatable in a story that is far from reality. It’s on him to anchor this supernatural tale to earth, and to his credit he makes the most of an underwhelming screenplay. Likewise, Noah Silver delivers the best undead teen the screen has seen since Warm Bodies, though I am not sure he has the chops to ever lead a film on his own. Judy Greer and Liv Tyler also offer strong performances, but considering how small each of their roles are it’s hard not to wonder if they were hired simply to boost ticket/VOD sales.

What stuck with me most in the days following my first encounter with Jamie Marks Is Dead was the way the entire universe in which the story takes place feels fractured. Everyone, from the main characters to those we meet once or twice, seems to be carrying some type of baggage with them that has begun killing them in one way or another. The entire town is frozen in place by ignorance, heartache, and tragedy to such a degree it almost threatens to stall the story entirely at time. These are the moments when Smith’s direction shines most however, as he creates an entrancing world where the impossible can happen on a shoestring budget. You want to know more about everything, even though part of you knows there probably isn’t much to be revealed. That’s one of the hardest things to learn as a filmmaker, and Smith uses his understanding of this concept to his full advantage.

If you can forgive a late third act reveal that is without a doubt one of the most embarrassingly soft punchline in film this year, as well as an ending that is equally weak, Jamie Marks Is Dead offers plenty of talented people making the most of a less than perfect screenplay. The concepts are solid, the acting is on point, and at times the whole affair looks gorgeous, but ultimately Carter Smith can not pull it together in a way that is wholly entertaining. It could have been so much more than it is, and that may be the biggest sin of all.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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